The role of expectancy theory in goal striving processes.

Author:Radosevich, David J.

    Setting personal goals is an important motivational process and has been the focus of recent theory and research on task and work motivation (Austin & Vancouver, 1996; Gollwitzer & Bargh, 1996; Locke & Latham, 1990). Self-regulation theories of motivation such as control theory (CT) and social cognitive theory (SCT) propose that self-regulatory behavior revolves around personal goals. According to these theories, personal goals are central organizers of human behavior and are used by individuals to monitor, evaluate, and modify their behavior. Individuals set standards for behavior and then monitor the discrepancies between their goals and actual behavioral output. The presence of a large or significant discrepancy provides a motivational force to reduce the size of the discrepancy. The motivating potential of goal-performance discrepancies (GPD) and the effects of goals on performance have been consistently demonstrated in the goal setting literature (Locke & Latham, 1990; Tubbs, 1986; Wood, Mento, & Locke, 1987). However, more research is needed to examine gaps in the literature concerning how individuals change their goals over time in the face of performance feedback. Thus, the purpose of this current study is to examine the role of expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) as individuals strive for goals and make changes to those goals after receiving performance feedback.


    2.1 Self-Regulation Theories

    Control theory (CT), social cognitive theory (SCT), and expectancy theory are three prominent theories that have contributed to the study of work motivation. CT cybernetic models view hierarchically organized negative feedback loops as the basic building blocks for human behavior (Carver & Scheier, 1981; Hyland, 1988; Klein, 1989; Powers, 1978). That is, individuals establish personal goals, monitor and evaluate their behavior relative to the goal, and form self-evaluations and reactions to goal-performance discrepancies (GPDs). A perceived discrepancy between performance and internal goals is considered an error and creates disequilibrium in the system. Individuals experience negative affect and are motivated to restore equilibrium by reducing the discrepancy either cognitively or behaviorally. These responses affect individuals' subsequent progress toward the goal, at which time another self-evaluation process occurs. If a discrepancy still remains, individuals are motivated to reduce it again. The process continues until performance matches the goal. Thus, CT views discrepancy reduction as the primary corrective motive in human behavior. CT also states that there can be several levels of negative feedback loops nested in an organized hierarchy and that the means to reduce discrepancies in higher-order feedback loops become the standards of the lower-order feedback loops (Klein, 1989). The implication is that in order to achieve any given goal, specific subgoals may need to be established and pursued sequentially as attention shifts from one feedback loop to another (Klein, 1989; Lord & Hanges, 1987; Powers, 1973).

    SCT states that individuals consciously monitor the information they receive from the environment, compare that information with their goals, develop judgments about their own capabilities, and react both affectively and behaviorally to that information. Individuals initially motivate themselves by creating positive discrepancies between personal goals and current levels of performance and direct their efforts toward achieving anticipated outcomes. Once challenging standards are adopted, discrepancy reduction processes occur to help individuals' reach their goals by adjusting their subsequent effort and strategies. Specifically, individuals compare their performance levels to their internal standards and are sensitive to any discrepancies. Both self-evaluation and self-satisfaction provide the incentives for discrepancy reduction and goal attainment. In the SCT view, self-incentives affect behavior by being tied to goal attainment. Both the anticipated satisfaction with goal attainment and the dissatisfaction with insufficient performance provide incentives for behavior that increases the likelihood of performance gains or goal attainments (Bandura, 1986, 1989). SCT also posits self-efficacy as a self-reactive influence that guides discrepancy production and reduction processes, such that high efficacy is positively associated with higher goal levels and more persistence in the face of large GPDs.

    2.2 Expectancy Theory

    Expectancy theory has three central components: (1) expectancy--one's belief that effort leads to performance, (2) instrumentality--one's belief that performance will lead to outcomes, and (3) valence--one's evaluation of the attractiveness of the outcomes. Together, these three factors predict an individual's level of motivation. While there has been support for expectancy theory through the years, there are two major criticisms. First, researchers have debated whether to use an additive or multiplicative model. The results of a recent meta-analysis by Van Eerde and Thierry (1996) advocated the use of the additive model over any of the multiplicative models. Second, there has been a debate on the use of within-subject versus between-subjects methodologies (e.g., Kanfer, 1990; Van Eerde & Thierry, 1996). Vroom (1964) theorized that expectancy theory would best predict a person's behavior from a choice of a set of possible behaviors...

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